America + Afghanistan = no answers

Betsy PickleOpinion

Fun fact: Before I was seduced by the glamour of journalism (sarcasm alert), I had a couple of other careers in mind.

For more than half of my high school years, I wanted to become an architect. I had dreams of designing stately homes and eccentric vacation retreats. I took mechanical drawing and learned the proper way to print. I joined Architectural Explorers and was mentored by real architects. That’s how I learned that I would likely spend the bulk of my career designing strip malls and office buildings. No thanks.

While I was in high school, I studied Latin and French. I already had the travel bug, and I loved learning about other countries. I became friends with an older student whose father was in the Foreign Service. She aspired to follow in his footsteps, and a diplomatic career became my goal as well.

That continued into college. I couldn’t afford to go to Georgetown University to study international relations, so I made up my own unofficial program at the University of Tennessee. I studied French, Arabic and Farsi. I majored in journalism in the public relations track, with government as my concentration. And I took 40 hours (on the quarter system) of political science.

I took, and passed, the Foreign Service Exam a couple of times, but I wasn’t selected. By the time the State Department decided it wanted me (after it lost some class-action suits filed by other women), I didn’t want it. I was a working journalist with supportive editors, and I didn’t want to be a government mouthpiece.

Over the years, I’ve wondered “what if” many times. I’ve remained interested in international relations and the interdependence the nations of the world have. I’ve tried to keep an open mind and be willing to accept that my country is not always right.

The mess in Afghanistan is horrifying proof of that. George W. Bush took us to war there 20 years ago for no reason. The countries we should have attacked in retribution for 9/11 remain unpunished. Barack Obama took down Public Enemy No. 1, Osama bin Laden, but didn’t bring the troops home.

Donald Trump last year made a deal with the Taliban that the United States would pull its troops out of Afghanistan by spring of 2021 – a commitment that locked Joe Biden into his recent withdrawal. And Biden went stumbling along with the plan before making sure that Americans and allies could be evacuated safely from the crumbling country.

There’s a lot of blame going around – 20 years’ worth – and it’s well deserved. But all of it presupposes that every country in the world wants democracy. And that every culture is on board with the concept of human rights, especially women’s rights. Guess what? They don’t. And they aren’t.

If the U.S. and other countries could have evacuated everyone who wanted to leave Afghanistan, would they have agreed to do so? With anti-immigrant sentiment raging here and around the world, who would have taken the refugees in? And if Afghanistan was left with only the Taliban and its supporters as citizens, would they be content to stay home and not try to spread their philosophy beyond their country’s borders?

I have more questions than answers. Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t become a diplomat. But it seems fairly clear that war in Afghanistan was never the answer.

If you’re of the praying persuasion, this would be a good time to bow your head.

Betsy Pickle is a veteran reporter and editor who occasionally likes to share her opinions with KnoxTNToday readers.

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